Published June 25, 2024

Application for Barrie's supervised consumption and treatment site withdrawn by health officials

11 Innisfil Street in Barrie was chosen by the CMHA SCB for a safe consumption and treatment site. File photo -June 2023 -Barrie 360

The Canadian Mental Health Association Simcoe County Branch (CMHA SCB) has withdrawn its application to operate a safe consumption and treatment site (CTS) in Barrie

In a news release this week, CMHA SCB said the decision to withdraw its application for the site at 11 Innisfil Street was made after they had not received a response from the Ontario Ministry of Health, following several requests.

"Since autumn 2021, we made significant investments in this site because it is a crucial service for the community," said Dr. Valerie Grdisa, CMHA Simcoe County CEO in the release. "As each month passed, more lives were and continue to be lost in Barrie and Simcoe County to the opioid crisis."

There were 16 suspected drug-related deaths in Simcoe Muskoka last month, according to numbers provided by CMHA SCB.

"On average, there are 25 suspected overdose emergency department visits in the region every week. In 2023, tragically 53 people lost their lives in Barrie to a suspected opioid-related poisoning. Thus far in 2024, up to June 11, 2024, 26 people lost their lives to a suspected drug-related death in Barrie, and the immediate surrounding area."

The federal government approved the CTS application from CMHA SCB in 2022.

There are 17 provincial CTS's in Ontario.

Last October, Ontario paused approving new CTS's while a review of all sites was underway.

The provincial launched a "critical incident review" last summer after a 44-year-old mother of two was killed by a stray bullet near a CTS in Toronto following an altercation between three men. Police have laid charges against several people in connection with the death of Karolina Huebner-Makurat.

"It continues to be clear from research on CTS sites in Ontario and elsewhere that they remain a key service to help prevent serious harms to individuals who use drugs, and increase uptake of addiction treatment and other health and social services," said Dr. Lisa Simon, associate medical officer at the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit. "They also serve the broader community by improving public order and safety through the presence of discarded drug paraphernalia and public drug use."

Despite the application being withdrawn, CMHA SCB said it remains committed to supporting people who use drugs through a range of services.

Christine Nayler, founder of Ryan's Hope in Barrie, says news of the decision to withdraw the application is devastating.

"Total shock and heartbreak," Nayler told Barrie 360. "It's been six years of advocacy by a lot of people in our community."

Ryan's Hope is a charitable organization that advocates for and supports people who are experiencing homelessness and living with mental illness and substance issues.

She says the Ontario government is at fault for the application being withdrawn and Nayler goes as far as suggesting it will have "blood on their hands" because lives are going to be lost as a result of the decision to withdraw the application.

Nayler says she lost her son to toxic drug poisoning in 2020 when he turned to street drugs to medicate his bipolar disorder because pharmaceutical medications didn't work for him.

with files from The Canadian Press

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